Young Writers on the Move

zora1Over the past five months, since the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, most of our news has been rather depressing and quite negative. Some of my most recent posts have been of that nature because of what has been happening in the real world. But let me share with you a positive story that will occur this weekend at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, in historic Eatonville, Florida. This small but quaint city, just north of Orlando, is the oldest chartered Black city in the country, and is where the great cultural icon wrote her most recognized work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Over the past six months, I have worked closely with N.Y. Nathiri, Executive Director of the Festival, to organize a two-day creative writing workshop for youth from across the country. For three years I have conducted a brief introduction to creative writing for the local high school students, attending the Friday Education Day at the Festival. However, this year we decided to expand the workshop and make it a two-day writing seminar, for young people not confined to the Orlando area. Initially, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off but recognizing the power of the name Zora Neale Hurston, and the opportunity for youth to participate in the festival, not only as writers but also as visitors to the entire event, I thought I had a shot. Now as we prepare to meet in Eatonville on Thursday evening and begin our workshop Friday morning, I can honestly write mission accomplished.

I have a total of fourteen young future writers coming from different parts of the country. They are as follows:

Michael A. Davis, Plainfield Central High School, Plainfield, Illinois (Chicago suburb)

Rashana Jackman, Boys and Girls High School, Brooklyn, New York

T’Kyah Hayes, Academy of Young Writers, Brooklyn, New York

Shafarisi Bonner, St. Joseph High School, Brooklyn, New York

Cameron Browning, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, Fayetteville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Cecilia Browning, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Nina Howard, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Amari Harrison, Hapeville Charter Career Academy, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Danielle Eatmon, Desoto High School, Desoto, Texas (Dallas suburb)

Johnnie Banks, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Dallas, Texas

Cindy Avila, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Cynthia Wright, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Kyana Alcazar, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Najel Franklin, My assistant and great niece, Alexandria, Virginia

I am thoroughly proud of these young people and of the sponsors who will attend the festival and workshop with them. I am proud of my fellow associates who will assist in teaching the workshop. Petra Lewis from New York, Tony Lindsay from Chicago, D. L. Grant, Branch Manager of the Carver Library in San Antonio, and kYmberly Keeton, Academic Librarian/Assistant Professor at Lincoln University’s Inman E. Page Library in Jefferson City, Missouri (kYmberly will not actually attend the workshop, but is preparing a reference guide on all the works written by Zora Neale Hurston as a research tool).

Once these writers return home, they will continue to work on the short story they conceptualized and began at the workshop. We will periodically meet through electronic media, and it is my goal for all of them to finish their stories by June 2015. Prosperity Publications will edit the stories and publish them as an anthology in the fall. Next year we plan to expand the number of cities and young people who participate, and in the years after, many more until we begin to make an impact in the literary community of this country.

You have to know that I have this crazy notion, that my Black brothers and sisters are not happy with the direction of our culture and want to turn it around. We now have identified parents and the chaperones, as well as the schools and organizations supporting this effort. This will work because those of us involved are driven by the passion for the written word, and a commitment to save our children from the ever-increasing negative influences they face, on a daily basis in their lives. We believe they deserve better and we plan to make that happen.

We invite you to join us on this trip with our young writers, who are now on the move for a positive experience about being young and gifted

Making History in the United States Senate

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The First Colored Senator and Represenatives | Image Courtesy of

Every year at this time, a heavy dose of nostalgia sets in and I recall my most memorable experience, while working on Capitol Hill as a Legislative Aide to Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana. It was in the winter of 1978, when the Senator and I attended a meeting in the office of the late and great Senator Ted Kennedy.

When we strolled into his spacious office, the first person I saw was Coretta Scott King sitting on the couch, next to Congressman John Conyers from Detroit, Michigan. My friend Peter Parham, a Legislative Aide to Kennedy, was also present. Peter and I had grown close because we worked for two of the most liberal senators, who often championed legislation important to the Black community. We also lived in the same apartment complex in Northwest Washington, and everyday would share a ride to Capitol Hill. As I sat down in one of the chairs close to Mrs. King, I knew that I was about to be a part of making history that day.

Mrs. King got right to the point and asked the two Senators to introduce a bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, to make her husband’s birthday a national holiday. Ever since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman Conyers had contemplated introducing similar legislation in the House of Representatives. Without hesitating, Kennedy and Bayh agreed to be the sponsors of the bill. Soon after, the late Senator Edward Brooke and Senator John Glenn joined in as sponsors. Ralph Neas from Brooke’s staff and the late Reginald Gilliam from Glenn’s office joined our team, and we would often strategize on the best way for our bosses to proceed with the bill. Peter and I had the primary responsibility for organizing the hearing that would last for two days, in the Judiciary Committee Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. That, also, might be a part of history; two Black staffers in the United State Senate, responsible for initiating the first Senatorial hearing to make the first Black American’s birthday a national holiday.

I will always remember the venerable Clarence Mitchell, who ran the NAACP’s Washington, D.C. Office and was known as the 101st Senator, testifying before the committee. With immense pride exuding from each word he spoke, the great strategist praised Kennedy and Bayh; “When I see young Black men and women sitting up there next to you Senators, and when I see them on the Senate floor where important public policy issues are being debated, in the greatest deliberative body in the world, I know we have made great progress in the country.”

Today if you attend hearings on the Hill, it is routine to see Black staffers representing Senators and Congresspersons. Back in 1978 it was the exception to the rule. Peter and I were in that first wave of Black men and women to be appointed to the staffs of Senators, in key legislative positions. There were about ten of us, and we all have gone on to pursue our own careers. But I am certain that when those staffers, who assisted the two of us in structuring that initial hearing, celebrate the holiday their memories will be as vivid and enduring as mine.